Andra Day On Eating Clean But Always Making Time for Cheetos

When she landed the leading role in the movie The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Andra Day must have been ecstatic, right? After all, Billie Holiday is her idol — she even took her stage name from the singer, whose nickname was Lady Day. Well, not exactly.

“It was horrifying. No, terrible,” says Andra, 36. “I was dead scared. I’m not an actor, and I felt totally out of my depth. I’m such a fan of hers, and the last thing I wanted to do is mess up the story of this woman I love.”

In fact, what Andra did in her debut film role was just the opposite. Her powerful portrayal brought Holiday’s story brilliantly to life, and she won a Golden Globe, received an Oscar nomination, and earned the admiration and awe of fans and critics. “What convinced me [to take the role] was the idea that the movie would tell the truth of her story, which is that she was a great godmother of civil rights,” says Andra. “The world never knew that, which was part of the design of systemic oppression. To expose it was really incentivizing.”

To prepare for the part of a lifetime, she effectively turned herself into Holiday. “I had to transform not just my body but the way I spoke and even the way I thought,” she says. “I had to adopt the way she approached everything: conflict, joy, life. I lost 40 pounds. I started smoking, drinking alcohol, and even cussing more. You feel emboldened yet ravaged after a role like that. But she made me feel that I’m braver than I thought I was. I can speak my mind and not be worried about the consequences because she did that.”

Using her voice has always been Andra’s forte. Her 2015 hit single “Rise Up” earned her a Grammy nomination and later became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. She’s working on her third album now, though she admits it’s been a long time coming. “Four years. I’m a slow burn,” she says. She’s not sure when it will be released. “Soon,” she says. “I’m excited about the new single coming out called ‘Heavy on My Mind,'” she adds. “Wale is featured on that, and he’s amazing.” In addition, Andra has some new movie projects on her plate, including one she’s co-writing the script for. “It’s a story I really want to tell,” she says.

Here, the star tells us where her strength and dedication come from.

Put In the Work

“I built a little gym in my garage. I have a power rack, a multifunctional trainer and treadmill, a weight bench, some dumbbells, resistance bands, yoga mats, a Bosu ball. I’ve got to do cardio — I hate it, but I need it. In my family on my father’s side, we have to be very attentive when it comes to our hearts. So I run on the treadmill. But I’m more of a lifter. I like using weights. It’s motivating to see certain muscles develop. I mean, everybody wants a great butt. And I like to switch up my workout. I need a change of pace pretty regularly.”

Mental Strength Is Everything

When I exercise, I have more clarity in my thoughts and in the way I function throughout the day. I feel more oriented. Working out helps me feel more capable. It helps me make better decisions. I often feel like brain fog is an issue for me, but when I’m working out regularly and drinking more water, my head feels clearer, truly. It’s an exciting feeling.”

Eat Clean with a Side of Cheetos

“My overall philosophy about food is…that I love it. The other side of it is to eat balanced. Eat healthfully. Eat clean. Eat organic as much as you can. Try not to go too crazy when you’re eating Cheetos Flamin’ Hot. I heard Jada Pinkett Smith say in an interview one time that her mother raised her to look at food as pure sustenance. I was like, Damn. Nobody in my family taught me that.

Generally, I just try to do better than worse. I’m a vegetables person. I try to eat things like grapefruit, too — foods that are chock-full of vitamin C and are just great for recovery, immunity, all that stuff. I focus mostly on vegetables and lean protein. And if I’m doing grains, I’ll have something like farro.

When it comes to what I really crave, though, there are three things: I love pasta. Also, my mom makes this yellow cake peach cobbler that’s murderous. And I’m from San Diego, so I love the Mexican food there. Those are my three things that, if I’ve been killing it, then all right, that’s how we’re going to lock it up.”

An 85-Year-Old Keeps Me On Track

That 40-Pound Weight Loss Was Damn Hard

“I love eating. So losing the weight was definitely difficult. I had a food-delivery service and a trainer coaching me every day. I was drinking a ton of water. But your body has to adjust. I was extremely fatigued. I was like, ‘I can’t keep my eyes open.’ When we were on set, I would eat grapes to get a little sugar from the fruit to keep going.

For the role, I couldn’t look like I had been eating healthfully and exercising. Even though Billie was stunning, hers was a 1940s woman’s body that had been ravaged by drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, staying out late, and not taking care. So I had to look more dehydrated and gaunt. I got to a point where I was starting to starve myself. I’d starve myself, binge eat a little, then starve myself, then binge. I’ve had people hit me up and say, “How did you lose the weight?” I’m like, ‘Don’t do it this way.’ It doesn’t give you the brain clarity. It’s very disorienting. It makes you sleepy and confused.

Afterward, once I started to get back to a healthier state, it felt good on my system. Now, I’m enjoying the way my body feels, my mobility, all that stuff. I want to keep running, keep working with weights, and keep eating well — and also having random Cheetos moments.”

For Me, Health Is Spiritual

“My healthiest habit is my relationship with God. I try to spend time praying, reading, and meditating on what I read every day. I do it as soon as I wake up, or at night before I go to sleep. I sometimes do both just to keep my head focused.”

At the End of the Day, I Want to Make a Difference

“One of my goals for the coming year is to do more community work. I support the school that I went to in San Diego and other schools around the area. I also want to do something to help Black, brown, marginalized, and homeless people in the area I grew up in.

Helping others is tied to my existence, the reason why I’m here. That’s tied directly to my faith, directly to my God. My identity, in the end, is wrapped up in service. I believe I was put here to be in service of my God and people. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to do dumb shit or random selfish stuff. I’m still human. When you’re in service of people, then you can stop with the judgment. You can stop needing people to live their lives according to your expectations. I don’t think there’s anything more dangerous than that agenda. Service is integral to who I am.”